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Why am I still playing Skyrim?

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Journey to the Savage Planet. Dragon Quest Builders 2. Phoenix Point. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Shenmue 3—those are just some of the games I'm yet to finish in the last few months. Some I haven't even started. In this relatively fallow period for PC releases, my pile of shame is somehow still growing.

I should be catching up on the games that launched in the frankly silly September-to-November 2019 bottleneck. I need to clear the slate so I'm ready and refreshed for Doom Eternal, Resident Evil 3, and Cyberpunk 2077. Instead most weekday evenings go in precisely the same way, as if my life is being directed by the dullest screenplay imaginable: with dinner done and the washing up to one side, I have about an hour of games time if I want to get to bed at a reasonable hour. I have every intention of starting something new or making a beeline for the credits on a game I once put to one side. Then, there I go: I'm playing Skyrim again.

The frosty northern climes of Tamriel are my second home. It's my comfort blanket. Whether I'm picking a Dwemer ruin clean or ambling aimlessly through bucolic forests, Skyrim is where I can shroud myself from the stresses and strains of the real world. Yes, it doesn't take hundreds of hours before it becomes repetitive, but I find the familiarity of its adventures reassuring. And when aspects of the game have run their course, I can reinvent it with countless Skyrim mods, such as ones that implement myriad new spells.

I'll always get something from Skyrim, whether it's a region-consuming civil war, or a ten-minute fetch quest in a dank cave. A sojourn to Skyrim is always worthwhile for me regardless of whether I'm grabbing a quick weeknight fix, or an all-out weekend bender. Whatever the hours I have to spend, Bethesda's endless freeform quests and entrancing orchestral soundtrack call out to me.

Even though this is how I want to spend my time, it's always bittersweet. Rather than dabbling in an unfamiliar genre—I really should properly give fighting and strategy games a go—I'm narrowing my horizons as I repeatedly chase Skyrim's. Each stolen moment is tinged with guilt. As new releases flit past me into the ravenous maw of my backlog; I'm actively ignoring a balanced PC gaming diet.

At the same time, I'm not really playing Skyrim at all, but roleplaying a different time in my life. It's become a means of reminiscing on a simpler time, albeit with venomous spiders and tinkling, luminous flora. When Skyrim originally came out in 2011, it became the best RPG ever made in my eyes. It isn't, but it felt as much at a time between college (high school) and university (college) when I had free months on end to pore over every rock, tree, and bugged, levitating mammoth.

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Much like many others, I suspect, I had a lot more free time: I had what felt like all the time in the world to play games, but without the money to buy many. I could put hours into a game knowing that, if it turned out to be bad, it didn't really matter. Onto the next one. Now innumerable games jostle for my attention, and the nightly 9 pm paralysis hits hard. 

All these roads invariably end in a fresh save. That's a testament to Skyrim's timelessness. It's an old friend. Even though we occasionally lose contact, that all suddenly melts away when we're reunited. It's there to soothe me when I don't fancy taking the plunge on something new. When I need distracting from tough times, it's still there. Skyrim's mountains reminds me of my uncomplicated, stress-free adolescence, and sometimes that's all I really want.

Harry tells you how you should play your PC games, despite being really rather terrible at them. Good luck finding out how he holds down his job, though: He steadfastly refuses to convey information unless it’s in clickable online form.